Since the early fall, with a ministry grant from the Territory of the People, St. Michael's in Merritt has had an increasingly successful Friendship Friday providing lunch, live music and social time for upwards of two dozen people every Friday. We have also opened up our courtyard for the homeless and they arrive daily for friendship and food and were provided with Christmas stockings. We enjoy them every day as they are tidy and help with odd chores. We have received a call from the RCMP asking if we are okay with these four to 20 people moving from under a tree at a shopping centre to our courtyard. We said we were delighted to serve the least of these, providing chairs and food. Of course, they have also been welcomed to come inside and they do on colder days.
Meanwhile, our Tuesday Soup Bowl continues to attract large crowds and is now joined by members of the Canadian Mental Health Association who also operate out of our hall three days a week while waiting for approval from the city to approve a subdivision of our property. They will be taking over the church building and will provide very necessary renovations to the tune of $160,000 not counting additional funds for fixing the outside in the summer. The association will provide living skills, social time and security for many people in our community, a service that was not offered in a permanent location previously. Already we at St. Michael's have plans to work closely together with CMHA in a variety of projects including a community vegetable garden.
As for our worship services, several people who like our easy-going and joyous services have joined our congregation and because of this new attendance we are again able to offer live two to four piece music on several Sundays. Our hall, which we have renamed St. Michael's Community Centre, has now become our portable sanctuary. The centre appears to be welcomed by those who were adverse to a formal church and were seeking a more relaxed spiritual setting. Our liturgy maintains an Anglican service on some Sundays but we also offer a diverse set of liturgy and music on many other Sundays. We are very pleased our centre is now very busy every day, including daytime and evenings.
December - Street people have taken to spending time in the little garden beside St. Michael's. They like to just sit in the few lawn chairs we provide and be in a place where no one is trying to chase them away. Some of them come inside on Friendship Fridays when we welcome anyone who wants to spend time with us and share a meal, while some never come in. A special Christmas lunch was held on Friday, December 23, and most of the garden visitors were there.
With Christmas approaching, some of us at St. Michael's gathered after church to talk about our own plans for Christmas Day. Most of us looked forward to good times with family and friends in warm houses with pretty decorations, lots of good food, and perhaps an exchange of gifts. We began to wonder what Christmas Day would be like for people for whom it is a pleasure to just be allowed to sit on a plastic lawn chair outdoors in the snow.
Church members attended an evening gathering at the home of the Rector and his wife, happily chatting and reminiscing. Someone mentioned buying things for Christmas stockings for children. We suddenly realized it would be feasible to prepare Christmas stockings for our garden visitors and hang them outside to be found on Christmas Day. The idea was shared, and soon a little group of church members busily planned what to put in the stockings.
Christmas Eve - after a beautiful and moving service warm socks were laid out on a big table, with each pair of socks put together to form one Christmas stocking. Hand warmers, chocolate bars, little packages of fruits, nuts and other treats appeared and were quickly stuffed into the socks.
Christmas morning - Two of us went to the garden early in the morning and hung the Christmas stockings on a large, leafless tree. We put up a sign wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, and invited them to take one stocking each.
Boxing Day - The twelve stockings we prepared were all gone. On one corner of our sign someone had printed "Thank You," and under it three people had written their names.